By Mike Steffanos
Jason Vargas is a left-handed pitcher who was a second round draft pick of the Florida Marlins in 2004. In December of that year, following his first season in pro ball, he was named the #8 prospect in the Marlins organization by Baseball America. Here is a portion of his scouting report:
Strengths: Vargas has good arm strength, working at 91-94 mph with his fastball. His tight slider is a putaway pitch against lefties. His changeup has good downward action at times and could become a plus pitch. He has a strong mound presence, working quickly and going right after hitters. He has sound mechanics and command.
Weaknesses: Some scouts wonder if Vargas may wind up as a reliever because he has just one plus pitch against righthanders. Though he has a good physique, there's some concern about potential weight gain in his lower half. He tired near the end of the year after a late promotion to low Class A, but that's typical for first-year players.
2005 saw the young lefthander rise rapidly through the Marlins system. After beginning the season in Low-A Greensboro, Vargas was promoted to High-A Jupiter and then bumped up again to Double-A Carolina. Injuries to their staff caused the Marlins to reach down and bring Vargas up to the majors despite the fact that the southpaw was only in his second year of pro ball. It went surprisingly well, as Vargas contributed 13 starts and an ERA of just over 4 to the Marlins ultimately unsuccessful pennant run.
Giveb the fire sale and youth movement after that season, Vargas was expected to be the team's fourth starter in 2006. Unfortunately, the young lefty floundered right from the gate and was moved to the bullpen in May. He continued to struggle and was sent down to AAA-Albuquerque where his ineffective pitching persisted. After a brief recall in July, he finished the year in Albuquerque where his 7.43 ERA was actually 10 points higher than with the Marlins.
With Dontrelle Willis, Scott Olsen, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez all ahead of him, and other promising pitchers in the farm system, Vargas became expendable. In November of 2006 he was traded with fellow southpaw Adam Bostick to the Mets for right-handed relievers Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens.
Here are Vargas' numbers from all levels in 2005 and 2006:
|2005 & 2006 Major and Minor League Stats -- Jason Vargas|
|2005-Greensboro (Low A)||5||33.2||4.3||8.8||2.7||0.3||0.80||.140|
|2005-Jupiter (High A)||9||55.1||7.6||9.8||2.3||1.0||3.42||.225|
|2005 Minor League Totals||17||108||6.3||9.8||2.6||0.8||2.50||.195|
As I don't follow the Marlins closely, I'd be interested to learn exactly what happened with Vargas last season. He had a successful rookie debut behind him and wasn't pitching all that badly when he was demoted from the starting rotation. He has five starts in April and pitched quite well in two of them and poorly in the others (and again, the Fish were putrid as a team in April). He was taken out of the rotation after a really bad start against the Rockies on April 29, but the outing before he had pitched 6-1/3 shutout innings against the Cubs at Wrigley, allowing just one hit. In any case, he really began to suck wind when he was sent to the bullpen, and was sent down to Triple A after only four more appearances. When he was sent down, manager Joe Girardi gave the following quote to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro:
He lost some of his aggressiveness. He didn't have the command that he's had in the past with his fastball. Sometimes it's hard to work on those things here when you are working out of the bullpen. You don't get the side sessions. We just thought it was best that he went and got himself innings so we can get him back.
... Sometimes when you're struggling to throw strikes, you lose some of your aggressiveness. He's going down there to start fresh.
Obviously things didn't go well in Albuquerque for Vargas, and now he is in New York looking for that fresh start. For all of his struggles last year, Vargas will be only 24 when camp starts and entering just his fourth pro season. He had only 168 total minor league innings before he made his debut with the Marlins, with only 19 of those coming at Double A. Add those to the 69 innings he pitched in Triple A last year and you still have a very inexperienced pitcher with less than 100 cumulative innings at the advanced minor league levels.
Although Jason Vargas is no longer considered a "prospect" because of his major league experience, it's not unrealistic to view him that way. He's young and only entering his fourth season of pro ball. Certainly there is hope for Vargas to rescue his promising career as either a starter or reliever in New York. He may have struggled mightily last year, but his numbers in 2004 and 2005 were outstanding. As Baseball America pointed out in that 2004 scouting report, part of his strength as a pitcher was "sound mechanics and command." You have to believe that his extreme struggles with command last year could be attributed to a loss of confidence and simply being rushed through the system.
I'm sure the Mets would love to see the experienced Vargas step up and grab the fifth starter job, allowing Mike Pelfrey and Phil Humber more seasoning in the minors. I think he has a real chance to do this, but it will depend on how fast he can recover his mechanics and his confidence. If he doesn't make the team out of training camp, I would expect to see him in New York at some point later in 2007 once his game is straightened out. Also, if he doesn't fill the bill as a starter it's conceivable he can help the team out of the bullpen, as he has been effective against lefties.
2007 Starting Rotation Previews:
Jason Vargas (This Article)
Rotation Preview Conclusions
2007 Pitching Previews: Summing It All Up